Peter Gash - Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort

Alumni of TEC 49, Chaired by Joe Foster
Lady Elliott Island, Queensland

TEC-Member-Peter-Gash-Lady-Elliot-Island-Eco-ResortPeter Gash fell in love with 100 acres of crushed coral in the late 1970s.

He's now the managing director of Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, situated off the eastern Australian coast. This tiny island, which is in reality a cay made of crushed coral and sediment, is located at the southern tip of the breathtaking and expansive Great Barrier Reef.

The world-famous reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Area and the small yet significant Lady Elliot Island is also part of a Marine National Park Green Zone.

Given its location as part of the planet's most extensive coral reef ecosystem, Peter was committed to creating a resort on the island that respects and cherishes its local environment.

"Our aim is to ensure that everyone leaves with a deep appreciation of the island's ecosystem, flora and fauna and heritage," explains Peter.

Visitors to the island can traverse the beauty by foot in just 45 minutes. Located around 80 kilometres north-east of Queensland's Bundaberg, the intoxicating charm of this coral cay attracts a range of guests. However, they're all treated to world class experiences.

From encounters with marine life to glass-bottom boat tours, visitors to Lady Elliot Island are presented with an impressive selection of activities.

The magic wouldn't be possible without Peter Gash and his wife Julie.

Peter joined a floatplane business dubbed Seair Pacific in the mid-1980s. Fast-forward five years to 1990 and Peter and Julie have bought the business, chartering flights to Lady Musgrave Island, which is located north-west of Lady Elliot Island.

Tapping into existing infrastructure, Peter made the decision to ditch floatplanes for those with wheels in the mid-1990s and started offering trips to Lady Elliot Island. The secluded spot already had an airstrip - the only one on the Great Barrier Reef - making the process of chartering flights directly to the island a breeze. It also had accommodation by way of the eco resort, whereas Lady Musgrave Island did not.

This decision can be credited to Peter's strong business acumen. However, he is still sensitive to the unique demands of the island, with his decision-making underpinned by a strong sense of environmental responsibility.

"At Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort we are keenly aware of the eco resort's responsibility as a steward of the island's incredible marine and terrestrial biodiversity."

In August 2005, Peter became the leaseholder of Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort along with two other partners. He now co-owns and operates the resort. Peter and Julie both own Seair Pacific, offering chartered flights to Lady Elliot Island from a range of departure points in Queensland.

Just as coral crunches underfoot on the island, one can crunch the numbers when it comes to considering the eco-resort's significance.

The statistics are certainly impressive. The resort entertains 30,000 guests every year. It now has 61 direct employees: 40 are based on the island, with the remaining 21 based in offices in the Gold Coast, Hervey Bay and Bundaberg.

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort has also scooped a plethora of awards that highlight its success as an environmental champion and industry leader.

It's picked up five Fraser Coast Tourism Awards for Excellence since 2010 - two in the Environmental Tourism category and one each for Best Tourism, Chairman's Award for Best Submission and Winner Environmental Tourism.

In 2011, the resort was a finalist in the Queensland Government Premier's Climate Smart Sustainability Awards and in 2012 it was a Runner-Up at the Queensland Tourism Awards. It has a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence (2013) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Environmental Tourism last year.

The numbers and awards are simply representations of the work Peter does in fostering an environment that focuses on sustainable energy and ongoing environmental education.

When it comes down to it, Peter explains that it's the staff and visitors who are most important.

"Our core competency is about people."

On the subject of offering leadership, Peter explains his four E's philosophy: "To look after our environment we need to be efficient, economically sustainable and able to educate effectively."

By keeping this mantra close to his heart, Peter is able to inspire guests and staff alike toward a common vision. He credits his involvement with TEC as developing his leadership development, learning "positive lessons" from his group peers as well.

The Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is dedicated to ensuring guests have truly remarkable experiences and resort employees "are the best in the business".

"To truly protect and care for something or someone you must love it. Only through close contact can that love form and be nurtured to grow," he continues.

This principle applies not just to Peter's impeccable people management. It's also a testament to his ongoing commitment to preserving Lady Elliot Island's natural splendour.

It's not always easy, either.

"Operating an island resort 80km out to sea presents a multitude of challenges on a daily basis," Peter elaborates.

"The island generates its own power, desalinates seawater for drinking purposes, maintains a waste water treatment plant and recycles its rubbish," he continues.

Fuel, building materials and heavy equipment is transported by supply barge from the mainland to the resort every three months. General freight - such as dry goods and other food - is flown in on Seair's daily journeys.

In 2008, the resort built a hybrid solar power station, to minimise its reliance on loud, diesel-burning and carbon-emitting generators. A new water waste treatment plant was recently installed, too.

Peter outlines the "excellent" reputation the resort has in the eyes of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is essentially the landlord of the resort.

It's essential that in its day-to-day running, the resort complies with the authority's regulations, such as the limit on the amount of guests to the island (150 overnight and 100 day guests).

However, Peter's strong vision of the resort's position as a "custodian" of the land and his focus on people makes it no surprise that the island is in good stead with the government authority.

"We work very closely with Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and see ourselves as partners, all sharing the same common goal of maintaining and preserving such amazing protected areas while allowing people the opportunity to visit, experience, fall in love with and learn how to protect these pristine locations," Peter proudly exclaims.

"We see ourselves as stewards who are blessed with the opportunity to protect, preserve and showcase such a place."

Peter's authenticity shines through when he explains the role of Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort. While he's the managing director - and an effective one at that - he's committed to the natural landscape and the people that share in its spoils. It's this refined vision that makes him such an effective leader - and to think, it began with 100 acres of crushed coral.